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Neville name is synonymous with New Orleans sound

  • Story Highlights
  • Art Neville has performed at every New Orleans Jazz Fest except for one
  • At 71, Neville is still an avid piano player and talented musician
  • "New Orleans is my home, good, bad, bittersweet," he says
  • Neville says red beans and rice is his favorite Jazz Fest dish
By Sean Callebs and Jason Morris
CNN
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- At 71, two painful back surgeries have left Art Neville walking with a cane and a stiff gait. But if you put him down in front of a keyboard, his eyes light up and his fingers are as nimble as ever.

Musician Art Neville relaxes in his longtime home on Valence Street in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Musician Art Neville relaxes in his longtime home on Valence Street in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The name Neville is synonymous with New Orleans sound, the artist having performed on records including the Hawketts' "Mardi Gras Mambo," the Meters' "Cissy Strut" and, of course, dozens of recordings with his siblings in the Neville Brothers.

Neville has performed at every New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival but one -- and he missed that one only because of a management snafu.

CNN caught up with him recently at his longtime home on Valence Street. He was listening to a box set of Sam Cooke, playing some iTunes and bragging about 27-year-old son Ian, who plays guitar. The following is an edited version of that interview:

CNN: You have played everywhere. Is there any place you haven't played that you want to?

Art Neville: I don't remember where I played. Going as far as back as I go, I don't remember two days ago. (laughs)

CNN: What do you tell people when they [ask], what is the city like?

Neville: New Orleans is my home, good, bad, bittersweet. New Orleans is my home, and eventually everything will be straightened out.

CNN: When Jazz Fest kicked off 40 years ago, it was for the city, it was for the people. There were New Orleans bands. Do you have memories of these early bands?

Neville: It kind of runs together. I don't know if this was Jazz Fest or not, but we were the first band to play Tipitina's. It was before they called it Tipitina's. We were the first band that played in there. And it was the Meters.

CNN: The Meters ... so you broke it in with the funk?

Neville: Oh yeah, and it was good. I enjoy all the groups that I was involved with. After the Hawketts, the Meters came about. And the Meters turned out to be one of the best groups I played with, back in those days.

CNN: What do you think Jazz Fest means to this area?

Neville: It's obvious that it means something real serious. [When] it first started out, it was just ... jazz. It was New Orleans artists and people from around this area. Now you have bigger, out-of-state artists coming in, and it turned out to be real good. I just enjoy playing it every year.

CNN: How important is Jazz Fest for lifting people's spirits in this economic climate?

Neville: The reaction that I see from the crowds ... I'm going through the same thing that they are going through. So we play the music for them, to try to make them smile for a little while or make them laugh or dance. That's great. [I] can't really, I can't explain it. You just feel good. The crowd feels good. I feel good.

CNN: One thing about the Jazz and Heritage Fest is the great food. What are some of your favorite Jazz Fest foods?

Neville: I like red beans [and rice] with everything in them -- greens, corn bread, potato salad. That's what I used to get for Sunday dinners. That was our Sunday dinner. Both my grandmothers used to cook, they did a great job. Oyster loafs, shrimp loafs, gumbo, stuff like that.

All About New OrleansJazz and Blues

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